Week 1: Addicted to the Rewards of the World

“Whilst we thus dwell with earnest minds, eager, unweariedly, the memories of household things pass from us; and as they so pass, the heart grows ever more steady, becomes quieted and unified, finds peace.”—the Buddha.

For this course I will be both your guide and your companion. I will organize the sessions and introduce some inspiring readings which also offer practical and sober views of the latter part of our lives. However, this is a path that all of us take, in one way or another, and I intend for us all to be involved in discussing our personal lives, aspirations and fears. I would like to organize the discussion around what you are all comfortable with. I will begin the sessions with short remarks. We will have some exercises and a contemplation. The core of the class will be a conversation. I hope it will be challenging and loving and helpful for all of us.

A Note on Class Discussions: These are extended discussions. For those of you who enjoy talking (like me!) try holding back and give others a chance (I, too, will make this effort, although I will also work on encouraging people and coming up with new discussion ideas). For those of you who tend to be quiet, make an effort to move out of your comfort zone and share your thoughts with the rest of the group.  Everyone should be sensitive to each other’s feelings. On the other hand, we’re not fragile flowers either: we should all be able to handle some lively discussion. If you feel distracted or emotional, you can opt out of the discussion at any time by muting the video or blanking your screen. Also, be aware of what the rest of us are seeing on your screen. If you have to move around during the meeting, turn off your video while you’re doing that: a rapidly moving video can be very distracting. If you have to talk to someone, turn off your sound AND your video for that period of time.

Thoughts for the first week’s discussion.

We’ve been conditioned to reject the idea of retirement because we’ve spent our entire lives being told we have to be successful.  We may love what we’re doing, or we may hate it. We may not know how we feel because of our deep habits. How do we figure out what we really want?

The Buddha repeatedly told us to examine our conditioning. His teachings on Dependent Origination explain that our suffering is caused primarily by ignorance. We are ignorant or don’t fully understand the extent of our conditioning, which gives rise to a continuing cycle of desire and pain; that is, wishing things to be other than what they are. This constant dissatisfaction born of ignorance leads to suffering.

Which leads to retirement and all that signifies. Retirement is really just a concept, and I believe, as we all discuss our individual stories surrounding it, we will find out that the actual experience of retirement is very different from its concept.

Contemplation:

You may, if you wish, think about your feelings right now on retirement. As I state in my short contemplation below, retirement means a lot more to me than just not formally working. What is your experience when you think about your retirement? You can write about it if you wish, and share with the group if you wish. We can discuss how that might work during the meeting.

Wendy’s contemplation:

Sept. 14, 2019

It will be 3 years since I retired: This is third autumn that I haven’t had to start teaching classes again. That means we can stay at the cottage and not go back to Cincinnati: so now we can watch the changes: the hummingbirds have left, mushrooms are popping up, the trees are taking on that undefinable yellow-green tinge, and geese are flying overhead: south.

A small thought comes up: how many more beautiful autumns will I see? That darkens the beautiful day a little as I become  uneasy and a little sad, like a cloud going over the face of the sun. There is some grasping after the happiness I just felt, and with that comes suffering. Just a slight turn of thought.

Readings

The readings are just meant to give you some food for thought and ignite our discussions. And, by the way, you are all welcome to share articles with the group. Send me links and I’ll post them here!

1.

A Noble Path

2.

How Van Gogh Found His Purpose: Heartfelt Letters to His Brother on How Relationships Refine Us

3. Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/07/work-peak-professional-decline/590650/

4. The Biggest Wastes of Time We Regret When We Get Older

https://lifehacker.com/the-biggest-wastes-of-time-we-regret-when-we-get-older-1755526646

 

Link to Zoom Meeting on Wednesday, October 23, 7 to 8:30 pm:

Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/992048238

Recorded session: link

 

Week 3: Resilience

Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.–Jorge Luis Borges

The transition into retirement isn’t all about our Golden Years, is it? It’s also about loss: grieving over our lost loved ones, our youth, and our often-bleak view of the future. Maybe here, too, we can gain some new perspectives and face some real truths.

I can go through a litany of our problems, and believe me, I will! We can identify  ways of dealing with our faulty memories, our grief, and our suffering. Please read Billy Collins’ great poem on Forgetfulness:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/37695/forgetfulness

I have a suggested strategy for dealing, coping, even enjoying old age, and its got to do with the cultivation of resilience. This an important concept in ecology and  can teach us how to deal with impermanence (which is all aging, retirement, and loss is all about, isn’t it?). Oh, that Buddha: he had it figured out a really long time ago!

Simply put: The more resilient a system, the better it can recover from disturbance (change). The most resilient systems have more diverse species and habitats. Monocultures (systems with just one species, like a corn field) have less resistance to disease, invasive species and natural disasters like floods and droughts.  Human societies also thrive when there is more diversity (it’s not just a Left wing, liberal thing). Individuals also learn better, recover better, and enjoy more if they embrace change and new things.

Here’s a definition of resilience:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wps.20591

And here, of course, is my iron-clad proof: Cute rats driving tiny cars and eating Fruit Loops. The point of the story is that the rats living in the “enriched” environment were faster learners. Check it out:

Image result for rats in tiny cars

 

https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/watch-these-lab-rats-drive-tiny-cars-get-froot-loops-ncna1072031

 

Here’s more about challenging your old conditioned responses:

1. The Stoic Strategy for Surviving Loss

https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/08/26/epictetus-love-loss/

2. This article landed with a PLOP! into my day yesterday: it looks squarely and unflinchingly at the Golden Years.   Enjoy?

Why We Can’t Tell the Truth About Aging.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/04/why-we-cant-tell-the-truth-about-aging

3. The Ailing Body: This is a strange article, but very insightful, if you can slog through it:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/05/06/virginia-woolf-on-being-ill/

4. This one goes even deeper, but sorry; this is where a real investigation into impermanence takes us:

Over time, Buddhism and Science Agree

http://nautil.us/issue/36/aging/over-time-buddhism-and-science-agree-rp

Zoom meeting: Nov 6, 2019 07:00 PM

https://zoom.us/j/992048238

link to zoom recording: LINK

Week 4: Going Forth

We are all different and our needs and circumstances are not the same. We all have to accept that and decide what we can do given where we are right now. The Buddha had some rather modern and far-reaching attitudes toward this transition into retirement:

Go forth for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the good and the happiness of gods and men. Let no two of you go in the same direction. Teach the Dharma which is beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle and beautiful at the end. Proclaim both the letter and the spirit of the holy life completely fulfilled and perfectly pure. —The Buddha, Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka.

Reinventing Yourself. I’m not trying to embrace this popular concept with bouncy enthusiasm.  I believe that it can set a person up for all sorts of self-judgement and frustration. However, there is a certain logic to reinventing the self when you realize you don’t have a self in the first place!

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/14/reinventing-yourself/

How to Grow Old: Bertrand Russell on What Makes a Fulfilling Life:

Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

Aging, Loss and Dreaming with Patti Smith:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/09/24/patti-smith-year-of-the-monkey/?mc_cid=530e5fb22c&mc_eid=eca7bd30fc

Some psychological insights that are important at any age:

The Happiness Ruse:

There is something profound here: we are conditioned to think we need to be happy all the time. This works great in our capitalist system, where enough is never enough, but it does terrible damage to our emotional well-being:

https://aeon.co/essays/how-did-being-happy-become-a-matter-of-relentless-competitive-work?

And this article looks at the idea of acceptance, which includes accepting your most difficult situations and emotions. Acceptance doesn’t mean make the best of a difficult situation, nor does it mean being resigned:

https://qz.com/1034450/accepting-your-darkest-emotions-is-the-key-to-psychological-health/

And, to make you feel a little less happy (and older):

OK Boomer:

 

Now, take a deep breath and don’t let it bug you too much:

The 8 Worldly Winds:

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an08/an08.006.than.html

Finally, if you want to read and watch the following video, it’s very touching. Granted, we may be reaching a bit beyond retirement, but it resonated with me:

94 year old was ready to die

Here’s one way to end the class: a Beatles song. Thanks for meeting me on a part of this journey.

Zoom meeting: Nov 13, 2019 07:00 PM

https://zoom.us/j/992048238

Week 2: Keeping Busy, Getting Lost

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Introduction:

We are also conditioned to stay busy, and always do something “useful”. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what we think is the correct way to spend our time. Maybe it’s time to try out a whole new paradigm for our lives and free ourselves from the need to “do” something.

I don’t want to say any more about this because I want you to come up with your own meanings. Look at my contemplation and the readings, especially “How To Do Nothing.”

Contemplation:

Some thoughts about this upcoming discussion and topic from me (Wendy):

My recommendation is that you pick a day this week and just write about what you’re doing. Try to take a sliver of time and do nothing. Don’t judge what your nothing is. Describe it (after you’ve finished doing it!).

October 15, 3:30 pm:  I am sitting here doing nothing. Well, no, I guess I’m writing this. I was doing nothing, but just for a few minutes. It’s raining outside and I have a bit of a headache. I’ve done “stuff” today: got the place cleaned for guests coming later on. Painted a little (not very well), watched an online lesson from “Introduction to Classical Music,” meditated…dozed a little. Doing nothing for real is still not entirely attainable. Something keeps happening. The news, with it’s increasingly alarming headlines, is beckoning. There are books to read, people to respond to, a whole spiral of things to do if I put my mind to it. Do I really want to do nothing, or do I just think I do?

You may notice that I didn’t really describe the “nothing” part. I couldn’t figure out how. It was like trying to describe the empty space in a room. It holds everything, but is itself shapeless and amorphous.

Readings:

Meditation helps retiree find her “encore”: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/meditation-retirement-brain-health/

How to be alone
https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/03/how-to-be-alone-school-of-life/

This is why you’re addicted to being busy: https://www.fastcompany.com/90388635/the-reason-behind-the-need-to-be-busy

Falling for Sleep:

https://aeon.co/essays/the-cure-for-insomnia-is-to-fall-in-love-with-sleep-again

How to Do Nothing (it’s long, and beautiful):

View at Medium.com

also, this:

One Square Inch:

HOME

also, this: a gift for you:

Zoom meeting: October 30, 7-8:30 pm

https://zoom.us/j/99204823

Recording of Class: link